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Isaac Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction
Michael White
Carroll & Graf, 287 pages

Isaac Asimov: A Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction
Michael White
Michael White is a former science editor of British GQ, as well as previous Director of Scientific Studies at d'Overbroeck's college, Oxford. He is the author of hundreds of science articles, as well as popular and classical music. A consultant for the Discovery Channel series The Science of the Impossible, White is the author of a dozen books, including bestselling biographies of Stephen Hawking, Charles Darwin, Isaac Newton, and Isaac Asimov. He lives with his wife and daughter in London, England.
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steven H Silver

During his lifetime, Isaac Asimov wrote three autobiographical volumes in addition to making autobiographical statements in various of his introductions and columns. A person might, therefore, be forgiven for thinking that there is no more to be said about Asimov's life (1920-1992). In fact, in 1994, Michael White published Isaac Asimov: a Life of the Grand Master of Science Fiction, a biography of Asimov which proved that there was more to be said, and even that wasn't the final word. Michael White has written an afterword which appears in the currently reprinted edition.

As White makes very clear, for all the detail included in Asimov's autobiographies, Asimov himself was the one topic which the author couldn't entirely separate himself from. While White isn't interested in tearing apart Asimov's reputation or digging up scandal, he is capable, and willing, to look at Asimov's foibles and faults in a way Asimov couldn't.

Another strength which White brings to Isaac Asimov is his ability (which, again, Asimov lacked) to provide critiques of Asimov's own works. White does this in a way which ties the works to the stages of Asimov's life, using Asimov's fiction as a way of highlighting Asimov's growth as both a writer and as a person.

Rather than organize the book in a strictly chronological order, White follows Asimov's biography in chronological order, but intersperses his discussions of Asimov's work as he deemed appropriate in a more thematic order. Because of this, the critical sections of the work discuss multiple works at a time and provide a fuller look at Asimov's career than if White had gone in an order guided strictly by release dates.

Although the original edition of the book did not discuss the ultimate cause of Asimov's death, White claims he knew about it at the time but chose to respect Asimov's family's wishes. With the revelation that Asimov received HIV-tainted blood in It's Been a Good Life (2002), edited by Janet Asimov, White is able to address the issue of Asimov's death in the afterword.

While White brings strengths to writing about Asimov's life that Asimov was not able to, one area where White is weaker than Asimov is shear clarity. Asimov's style was so transparent that many readers didn't even realize he had a style, or that it was an easy way to write. Unfortunately, while White's style isn't difficult, it also isn't as transparent as Asimov's was.

White's book provides a good overview of Asimov's life and work more than a decade after the author's death. His writing is concise and not given to either trashing Asimov or hero-worshipping him, giving instead a well-balanced portrait of this important and seminal science fiction author.

Copyright © 2005 Steven H Silver

Steven H Silver is a four-time Hugo Nominee for Best Fan Writer and the editor of the anthologies Wondrous Beginnings, Magical Beginnings, and Horrible Beginnings (DAW Books, January, February and March, 2003). In addition to maintaining several bibliographies and the Harry Turtledove website, Steven is heavily involved in convention running and publishes the fanzine Argentus.

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